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Uruguay's Star: Tannat
By Rebecca Murphy
Mar 6, 2024
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A recent webinar I attended featuring Tannat wines from Uruguay, hosted by Peter Granoff, MS.  It brought back fond memories of my visit to that South American country four years ago.  It is a beautiful place, with the Atlantic Ocean on the southeast, the Uruguay River on the west bordering Argentina, and Brazil to the north and east.  I found it to be a peaceful, forward-thinking country that is easy to travel in.  For example, while Spanish is the primary language, most people also speak English.  I was told that all primary school children are given laptop computers.  A program called “Plan Ceibal” was created in 2007.  Five years later all 300,000 children in public schools were equipped with their own personal device.  
The star variety of Uruguay is Tannat, a red grape with thick skins and a high tannin content.  According to Wine Grapes by Robinson et al., Tannat was first mentioned in the Hautes-Pyrénés in southwest France in 1783-4.  The Tannat grape made its way to Uruguay nearly a century later.  The Uruguay Wine website states “the first commercial vineyard was planted by Basque immigrant Pascual Harriague who brought the Tannat vine, native to his Basque home in Europe, and planted it in Salto in northern Uruguay in 1870.”

Tannat is the star grape because it thrives in Uruguay’s moist climate.  It is after all, an Atlantic grape.  The Basque Country is on the Bay of Biscay, a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean.  Uruguay also has an Atlantic coast, and many vines are planted not far up from sea level in altitude.  The cool winds from the Atlantic provide a long growing season that helps avoid stress during the growing season avoiding harsh tannins, limiting potential alcohol while maintaining a certain natural acidity.  When fully ripe, grapes are harvested by hand.

It is clear that protecting the environment is an important goal for the country.  The Certified Sustainable Certificate created by INAVI, Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura—Vinos del Uruguay, was launched in 2023.  The certification program “focuses on environmental management, cultural practices, respect for people, and methods for pest and disease control, ensuring sustainable grape production in all aspects.  Therefore, when consuming wine made from grapes from certified vineyards, you are contributing to environmental care and the protection of the health and safety of workers in the sector.”  They predicted that 162 vineyards would be certified in 2023, representing 1,846 hectares of vineyards and 31% of the total planted in the country.

I learned a new term in the presentation, “Georeferencing.”  It is a technique they use to identify and survey the different plots of a single vineyard, allowing every traced to its exact source.   I have great respect for their efforts to ensure the protection of the environment.

We had the opportunity to taste five wines during the webinar.  The first was Bouza, Uruguay, Tannat 2020.  Bodega Bouza, located near Montevideo, has five vineyards located in different areas to take advantage of the different soils, elevations, and aspects to achieve a broad range of flavors.  It displays an opaque, black ruby color and spicy black fruit aromas.  Rich flavors of black cherry, blackberry, black plum are layered with spicy, mocha notes.  Crisp acidity and well managed tannins make it a well-rounded wine.

Castel Pujol, Folklore, is a brand created by Bodegas Carrau in Montevideo.  The Folklore Tinto 2023 is 80% Tannat that is de-stemmed and blended with Petit Manseng and macerated with the Petit Manseng skins.  Natural fermentation occurs in stainless steel, then transferred to used oak for several months of aging.  It has black ruby purple color and black fruit aromas with a hint of caramel.  Bright acidity and chalky tannins bring it all together.  

Viña Progreso Revolution Tannat 2020 is the brainchild of former “flying winemaker” Gabriel Pisano.  Aged three to four months in second use French and American oak barrels.  it is the lightest of the group with a dark ruby color, black cherry fruit well balanced with vibrant acidity and robust tannins.  For those who have never experienced Tannat, this wine will be a way to start. 

Don Pascual Coastal Tannat 2022 is produced by Establishment Juanico, which was founded in 1740.  The winery was acquired by the Deicas Family in 1979.  Santiago Deicas is the winemaker who has worked with consulting winemakers Michel Rolland, Paul Hobbs and Gerardo Michelini, honing his winemaking skills.  It has a black ruby color and spicy black plum, black cherry, and blackberry fruit aromas.  Those black fruits are concentrated in the mouth, enlivened with crisp acidity and finishes with chewy, chalky tannins.

The first Toscanini arrived in Uruguay from Italy at the end of the 19th century.  He made his first wine in 1908.  Seventy years later, Montes Toscanini was established by Margot Toscanini de Montes and her brother when the acquired the current winery in Las Piedras.  Today the winemaker is Leonardo Montes.   Montes Toscanini, Uruguay Gran Tannat 2020 is opaque black ruby color, concentrated black fruit flavors, zesty acidity, steeled by husky tannins.

These wines are a small sample of the different styles of Uruguay’s Tannat.  There are many more to enjoy.  Find your favorite.   It will be fun!   

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